I finally got around to racing my first triathlon of the year on Sunday, July 12 in Caseville, MI. It was my second time tackling the Olympic distance. When I did my first Olympic race last summer, I was in a stage of rebuilding a base in all three disciplines as my back recovered from a car accident in March. I had enough of a base to get through the distance, but I knew that I could do better with more training. I’ve been training hard this year and chose Caseville as my goal race for the summer.
Tri to Finish delivers a great race experience, so I browsed through their list when I tried to decide where to race this year. Caseville stood out for a number of reasons. I hadn’t been to Michigan’s “thumb area” before and was curious to check it out. Tri to Finish described the swim in Lake Huron as “crystal clear,” and the bike course along Lake Huron would have “picturesque views the entire way.” With the bike being my weak spot, I was especially interested in the smooth and flat course. I thought it would make a nice weekend getaway, so I was sold.
On Saturday afternoon, Matt and I drove to our hotel in Bad Axe – about an hour and a half north of us. We made a brief stop to drop off our stuff, then headed an extra half hour up to Caseville for the packet pickup. As we drove through the backroads, we were fascinated by the seemingly endless fields of wind turbines.
Packet pickup took place at the Thumb Brewery, where we also ate a nice dinner. My bib was good for free chips and dip – bonus! After dinner, we walked to the Caseville County Park to check out the site of the race. A band shell near the park was going to host a concert that evening, which ties into the official title of the race – Caseville Movin’ and Groovin’ Triathlon.
Although it was a beautiful night, I knew I should get off my feet and get back to the hotel. The next morning, we left the hotel before 6:30. I figured I should get in line for the porta-potties as soon as we got there so I wouldn’t be rushed right before the race. They only had two and probably could have used more. There were bathrooms in a building along the beach, but the building was locked when I got there. Of course someone unlocked them just as I finally made it to the front of the porta-potty line.
I got marked up and set things up in transition. Much thanks to Matt for being there to support me and for taking some photos!
Next, I got my wetsuit on. I’ve worn it a couple times in a lake to practice, but this would be my first time racing in it. I figured it would slow me down in the transition, but hopefully the buoyancy would help my swim enough to make it worthwhile.
Time flew by and the 8:00 start came before I knew it. The race offered sprint, Olympic, and half Ironman distances, plus a duathlon. The half swimmers started in the first wave, and a woman commented that it seemed like the Olympic group was the smallest. She was right – not counting a few relay teams, there were 42 Olympic finishers versus 88 in the sprint and 69 in the half. I was happy because it meant less congestion for our wave.
After the half swimmers started, those of us in the Olympic race worked our way through the water to a buoy, where we started about five minutes later. It was a relief to have very little congestion at the start, especially since plenty of the swimmers took off and left me in their dust!
The water was the perfect temperature and I loved this swim. I’m used to swimming in murky lakes with seaweed, so it was awesome to swim in crystal clear water where I could actually see in front of me. I could feel the buoyancy of the wetsuit, but I still didn’t feel especially fast. A couple times people came up along my side closer than I liked, so I’d hold up for a second and go around them on the outside to create some space. Otherwise, everything was great about the swim.
As I finished the swim and reached the beach, I realized that my legs weren’t going to allow me to run to the transition. I was very wobbly and made it to the timing mat with a time of 30:49 – pretty decent for me between the 1500m swim and “run” up the beach.
Next I had to worry about getting out of my wetsuit. The thing is about as tight as it can get. I ordered it online and apparently the sizing charts do not apply to me. Based on the measurements, the first one I ordered should have been good. It wasn’t, so I asked their customer service person what size to try next. The next one still didn’t fit, so I went up one more size. It was still awfully tight, but at least I could get it on, unlike the previous two. I was not going to make another return, so I decided to live with it.
I actually managed to get the left sleeve off around my Garmin, which was a problem during my practice swims. What I hadn’t anticipated was an issue with the timing chip on my ankle. We were told to wear the chip outside of the wetsuit, so I did. The ankle part of my wetsuit is so tight that I really struggled to get it off over the chip. I had used a safety pin in addition to the velcro to make sure the chip stayed on, so I couldn’t easily open it up and put it back on. I’m going to have to learn how to make that easier the next time around. I’ve read that some people cut a few inches off the legs, so maybe I should consider that?
I wasn’t out to win the race and knew that wriggling out of my wetsuit for the first time in a race situation would slow me down in the first transition, so I was okay living with my slow time. I threw on a tank top with my bib, scarfed a few Honey Stinger energy chews, put my socks and shoes on, got my helmet and sunglasses, and finally got through T1 in 2:47.
Then it was time for 25 miles on the bike. While I peaked with one 30-mile ride prior to my first Olympic triathlon, I did a number of regular long rides while training for this race. 35 miles was the longest I went, but I regularly rode 20-30 miles each weekend for most of the winter and spring. Just like every other triathlon I’ve done, the “real” cyclists flew past me throughout the bike course. They always make me feel like I’m standing still. Despite training more consistently on the bike, I’m still not a cyclist. I thought the flat course would help, but I didn’t go faster than 18.5 mph for any mile. The best I could manage was an average of 17.5 mph overall. I’ve tried to build my base more, but I haven’t pushed speed very much during training and I still haven’t tried clipless pedals. I’ve basically done enough to “get by” on the bike, so I don’t expect much. I really enjoyed the bike course because it took us out and back on a road near the shoreline.
The shoulder was large and the road was fairly smooth, so it was great for a race. I enjoyed riding past campgrounds and lakefront cottages. At times we had really nice views of the water. At a certain point my inner thighs got sore from sitting on the seat for so long. I realized that I’d used padded bike shorts for all of my longer rides and hadn’t practiced long rides with tri shorts. The padding definitely makes a difference! In addition, I had strained my left thumb/wrist pretty bad a couple weeks earlier from gripping my handlebar too tight and for too long. I thought about it during the whole bike portion of the race, making sure I moved that hand around enough so it wouldn’t get irritated.
After spending so much time in the first transition, I was able to fly through the second transition in 37 seconds. I racked my bike, grabbed my fuel belt and hat, and ran.
There was a small hill on the way out of the park that drained me briefly, but the rest of the run was flat. I was pretty strong for the first two miles, then my pace dropped off a bit. The run took us out and back on some uneventful roads. We ran by farmland for a short stretch near the turnaround point. That part was out in the open and the sun was more noticeable. Luckily we didn’t run in that area for too long, because it probably would have worn on me mentally. I felt pretty tired by the halfway point and almost felt like I was in survival mode at times, but my pace was still decent. The fourth mile was my slowest at 8:05. Since I’d hoped to average at least 8:00 per mile overall and I was well under that, I remained relatively positive. The small hill I had struggled to climb at the beginning gave me a good boost on the way back down into the park, and I pushed to keep it up through the end.
I finished the 10K in 47:58, averaging around 7:42 per mile. My run splits were 7:26, 7:28, 7:41, 8:05, 7:55, 7:47, and a pace of 6:52 for the last 0.23. I was excited to find out that I had finished the race in a even 2:48:00. It took me three hours to finish my first Olympic tri. Although this course was easier, I was still thrilled to improve my time by so much.
It took a few minutes of pacing around before I recovered enough to get some water and food. They had some non-appealing looking bananas and handed out a slice of pizza, but that was about it. Once again, I think I’ve been spoiled by the elaborate spreads of food that often follow running races. Most of the triathlons I’ve done have been lacking in that department. After working so hard, all I want to do is eat. I’ve learned to bring snacks of my own, plus I knew there was a Dairy Queen close by.
There was nearly an hour to kill before the awards ceremony, so I changed into dry clothes, snacked on my food, and waited. By default, I won an age group award since there were only two of us in the age group. Another woman in our age group had placed as one of the top females.
For my second place finish, I received a silver piece that magnetically attached to my medal.
It looks like I placed fifth out of 16 women. Apparently not many women participated in the Olympic distance. I didn’t care much about my placement though. I was just happy that I had improved my Olympic time by 12 minutes.
Overall, I loved this race and would definitely do it again in the future. When I signed up, I liked that the half Ironman was one of the possible distances. I’m not sure if I’ll want to tackle the distance at some point, but at least I got the chance to scope out a potential place to try it.
Due to marathon training that is getting pretty serious now, this may be my only Olympic distance race this year. If so, I’m definitely happy with how it went.
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